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A Couple of Things, and a Couple More
The word couple literally means “two,” but it is often used to mean “an indefinite small number.” So if you were to say,
“I only have a couple of dollars,” you would probably not be called out if you really had three or four.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
However, your friend the grammar stickler might take exception if you said you had “a couple dollars.” Although “a couple dollars”
is common in everyday speech, traditionalists insist on “a couple of dollars.” And since a couple of dollars doesn’t
sound stuffy or pretentious, why leave of out?
But things get tricky when couple is used with words and phrases of comparison, such as more, fewer, too many, too few.
Many people would say a couple of more dollars, but in that construction the of is dropped: a couple more dollars and a couple too few dollars are correct. However, if we slightly revise those phrases, of must be put back: a couple of dollars more and a couple of dollars too few are correct.
When the noun couple refers to two people, you often see it used as a singular: The couple was having dinner. But the more one writes,
the more one discovers that with couple the plural verb should be used unless there is an excellent reason not to.
While it is true that The couple was having dinner is unobjectionable, what if we expand the sentence a bit. If the subject of a sentence starts
out singular, it should remain singular. So if we wanted to say where the dinner took place, we would be forced to write The couple was having dinner in its home. That is atrocious, but so is The couple was having dinner in their home. Therefore, make it The couple were having dinner in their home. And make couple plural whenever possible (which is most of the time). You’ll be in
* * * * *
We recently heard from a reader who objected to a sentence she found in one of our online quizzes: We’ll hire the applicant whom we talked with. She urgently informed us that “you do not end a sentence with a preposition!!!!”
This “rule” is the Walking Dead of English-grammar superstitions—a festering pest that cannot be destroyed. We are scolded about it at
least once a year, and without exception those who upbraid us offer no evidence to substantiate their claims. (That is because none exists.) So we hereby
challenge anyone who still swears by this dubious principle to relocate the preposition in this sentence: Speak when you are spoken to.
Are these sentences all right? If not, can you fix them? The answers are at the end of the newsletter.
1. We would like to hear a couple of more suggestions.
2. The couple has announced the opening of their antique store.
3. Your friends have had a couple more drinks than usual.
4. And now they’re demanding a couple drinks more.
5. The carton contained a couple of items less than we’d agreed on.
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Pop Quiz Answers
1. We would like to hear a couple more suggestions.
2. The couple have announced the opening of their antique store.
4. And now they’re demanding a couple of drinks more.
5. The carton contained a couple of items fewer than we’d agreed on.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.